Hollywood’s Adaptations; Starring Slighted Expectations, and Introducing (for neither the first, nor the final time) Disappointed Audiences

Hollywood’s run out of ideas; Battleship, a movie based on the popular Hasbro board game, was released on May 18th, 2012 (in the United States and Canada, rather) to almost universally abysmal reviews. Though some have offered the opinion that the critical failure of the Transformers series helped produce a slightly better film, the movie, based on a game played with two grids hidden from each other while players call out “Coordinates” to sink the eponymous battleships of their enemies, has been a relative flop. Granted, not in the box office, because it’s already broken its budget and will presumably do so for the coming weeks, though this is a minor and almost trivial point because I can’t go without mentioning that these days almost every big budget summer action flick is breaking its budget; Transformer: Dark of the Moon, for example (my deliciously scathing review) also broke its budget and I can safely say it was one of the worst movies ever created.

Back to the point at hand: Hollywood has almost definitely run out of ideas.

Adaptation after prequel after sequel after reboot after re-imagining, it feels like all Hollywood has been capable of doing for the past few years is releasing films based on already existing independent properties including old television shows (Star Trek, 21 Jump Street, Dark Shadows, Transformers), books (any Nicholas Sparks book, the entire Harry Potter series, any comic book that’s published by DC or Marvel and its subsidiaries), board games (this one is fairly recent, though I am excited to see what happens with this idea; Clue was a film worth seeing, though the game is far more complex than the average family affair), “true stories” that are often wholly fabricated to create better characters and a more enjoyable story (Hollywood loves true stories, and this is a fact), and old movies (I’m not even going to bother giving an example for this one; it should be fairly obvious to everyone involved).

The point, I suppose, is that Hollywood’s few original ideas are rarely so, and even the films that happen to win the most awards at festivals, and ceremonies are often based on recycled ideas. Granted, there’s a point where an idea exceeds its original purpose and transcends its being; to filmmakers, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are no longer wars, but symbols of generational change and evolution, social acclimatization, and cultural purification. Many films have even attempted to provide a human facades to the “Most evil men who have ever lived.”

It goes without mentioning that tropes, cliche’, parodies, and homages exist because the original source material is a fantastic source to derive from; the Greeks, Romans, Ancient Babylonians, and Italians created the world’s finest works of art that still manage to provide stories for writers to learn and create from. Of course, the English language’s greatest contributor died over 400 years ago and, to this day, the title hasn’t been taken from William Shakespeare, or given to someone else. The irony is that even his plays weren’t original ideas and most of his work was directly taken from Italian operas, Hungarian and Swedish dramas, Norse tragedies, Greek and Roman history, and a fabricated version of British history.

It’s a great bit of irony that the most important contributor to the English language (and literature as a whole) created fantastic stories from earlier works that had already been published; Shakespeare was little more than a thief with a gift for fabrication. An important point to note is that it’s rare for any individual to claim that Shakespeare stole his work; quite the contrary, Shakespeare, much like Hollywood writers today, used sources of literature to draw inspiration from. The sole difference being that, when Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark based on the Scandinavian legend of Prince Amleth, he didn’t end up writing something as derisively awful as Battleship or (ironically enough) Charlton Heston’s 1970 adaptation of the original 1950 version of Julius Caesar.

For a moment, allow me to make my point incredibly clear: Shakespeare drew inspiration from other works and while some might argue that he “Stole,” it’s almost impossible to argue that he ruined any of the other works for future viewers. Shakespeare’s Hamlet didn’t ruin the legend of Prince Amleth, and his version of King Henry (though slightly inaccurate) did not tarnish the King’s name. Hollywood, on the other, has a tendency of making films that sully the name of the original source material; the 1970 version of Julius Caesar, Dark Shadows, Wanted, and Daredevil being fantastic examples.

It’s interesting that, even the worst film based on a rather interesting Independent Property has some level of interactivity between the original producers and the film’s writing staff. Some films, for example, are based on books that were published and aided by the film’s producers to make sure that a movie is as close to the original source material to insure that fans of the books enjoy the film and that the fans of the movie will enjoy the books and contribute to the original author’s welfare.

Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, was aided by several members of Paramount Pictures’ writing staff tasked with the sole purpose of creating a fantastic book to be adapted to the silver screen. Fascinatingly, Puzo actually wrote the script for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, and provided input for the subsequent second and third parts.

In an event similar to The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick is based on a book by Arthur C. Clarke in the most literal sense; Clarke was writing the book as Kubrick was directing his film. The two were actually working together, creating a property based on a few of Clarke’s short stories with a greater plot being agreed upon by the two artists; the differences in canonical endings occurred due to their differing opinions on how they wanted their properties to proceed. Of course, these films are not terrible films, and interestingly, have been called some of the greatest films of all time by critics, moviegoers, cinephiles, and regular audience members.

Granted, there’s only so much an adaptation can do and if its based on source material that’s less than satisfactory (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is a remarkable example), it’s unsurprising if the film is also less than satisfactory (the The Twilight Saga is also a remarkable example). Of course, it’s undeniable that there are films that are based on fantastic sources that are also terrible, and its not uncommon for fans to claim that the movie didn’t work with the momentum of the original source.

While I wasn’t a particular fan of the Olympian Demigod series, the film doing poorly while based on solid source material was disappointing to many viewers; it wasn’t entirely surprising since the film was marketed to the same audience that enjoyed the magical school aspects of the Harry Potter franchise while the majority of the Olympian plot was less intricate than the film’s competition, but the disappointment was there regardless.

At this point, I must mention that Hollywood films based on preexisting properties are marketed to the audiences that enjoyed the aforementioned properties the most; comic book fans aren’t going to have the latest Nicholas Sparks novel sold to them, and fans of art house films aren’t going to have any of Michael Bay’s box office masterpieces marketed to them. The Avengers wasn’t marketed to the same audience that enjoyed Dear John or even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but instead, to the audience that enjoyed Iron Man, Thor, The Incredibly Hulk, The Dark Knight, and other comic book movies. Had the film turned out to be terrible, fans of the original material would have more than enough right to raise complaint since a major promise was effectively broken.

I suppose therein lies a stunning detail: when a Hollywood adaptation promises something, and delivers something else, audiences have a right to raise complaint. Ultimately, when any Hollywood film promises something, and delivers something else (poorly, of course), any audience has the right to complain. It’s not that I went into Transformers: Dark of the Moon expecting anything other than what the film delivered; it’s that the Michael Bay feature delivered something so gratuitously awful, that I couldn’t help myself from raising my voice in annoyance and derision. Certainly, I’ve went into adaptations expecting a certain premise and being given something wildly contradictory and only I’ve enjoyed those films because they managed to do their job well; they were entertaining and interesting, and I was interested and entertained.

In essence, that’s the most important point; it’s not that Hollywood’s out of ideas (because it actually had very few ideas to begin with), it’s that Hollywood has somehow reached a point where pandering to the lowest common denominator has become the most acceptable point-of-view, and writing, special effects, acting, directing, editing, sound production, and genuinely entertaining qualities have been replaced with drivel. Not always, but often enough that it warrants opinion.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

  1. July 5th, 2012

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